Those who make the rules…

…determine who is equal.

Strange how similar discussions take place with very different people in far ranging venues.

So women are finally allowed to be “equal” in the military and over on the NPPA facebook page there’s a lengthy thread about equality. Some who think there never can really be equality and some who say it is a step forward.

After going around and around in some of the sparring I came to an epiphany: Those who make the rules determine who is equal. Those who have no input into the rules can never be equal.

So if I’m part of a bunch of guys wearing wigs in the 1700s and we decide that “all men are equal” it’s really just our way of saying guys like us. It takes two hundred years to look around and slllllooooooowwwwwllllyyy change the rules because, well not everyone’s happy with them. But in changing the rules I’m giving up my control, my power. The guys like me aren’t always happy about it. And even though it’s a rule…the law…I can kinda ignore it until I’m caught. Then they slap my hands a few times and I know it will take forever to really make that law effective.

Why the fuss here?

Let’s time hop back to the early 1970s. Freshly minted diploma and eager to work, I got told way too often that I wasn’t getting interviewed BECAUSE I WAS FEMALE and nothing could force a company to even look at me.

Well I didn’t want to force anyone to do anything…I just wanted a job. And I know (now) at that time there were millions of other women, blacks, Asians, you name it all in the same predicament.

Thank you FCC for that ruling in the summer of 74 for mandating that anyone using the airways in this country HAD to consider all comers. What happened is there was a scramble to hire anything female or not part of the mainstream white male culture that controlled broadcasting in those times. (Not saying that was a good thing…because in those early years there were some pretty bad hiring decisions made in haste, but over time those who couldn’t hack it were history.)

The door was open and I went in.

Six months after getting my first job I went to an NPPA workshop taught by Ernie Crisp. Who told the assembled newbies that women would never be able to work as broadcast cameramen because the gear was too heavy for them. That was the mainstream thinking of the day.

Hmmmm….guess I wasn’t good at listening, cause I stayed under cameras for the next 25+ years.

Those who make the rules determine who is equal.

Think about it.

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Press Grip…

New toys are always fun…even more so when someone you know invented them AND you get to be one of the first to play with them.

So what is this new toy?

It is the Press Grip – the brainchild of KGO cameraman Dean Smith. He’s a regular guy…and in and out of the many press conferences that are part of every news photographers stock in trade. One of the problems encountered at PCs are overcrowded podiums, tables, mike stands…so Dean came up with a handy do-it-all clamp-on solution.

I got my cash in fast when he announced they were for up for grabs…and got one of the first off his (very personal) assembly line. So let’s take a look, break it down, and see what it can do.

Essentially the Press Grip is a vise grip with ball and socket to allow rotation of the microphone or camera to level it and/or aim it in the right direction.

The beauty of it is in the construction and quality of materials. It has the vise to grip the table/podium/fence post/window…and then two ball socket connectors that allow you to position your camera or mike in almost any position. You can go up…down…sideways…even upside down if you’re so inclined.

I immediately put my Panasonic HMC150 on it and ran around scaring the livestock (see photo top of posting as Shim barely manages to conceal his excitement). The 150 weights in at just over five pounds…I added on weight and am confident (don’t quote me on this though) that it will probably hold up to six pounds and still have some give and take room.

What works? The ability to fix your gear where you want and aim it where you want. While it is not a quick snap-on solution (does take a minute to screw in place), it is most definitely a solid solution. Once you’ve got it in place, it stays.

I’ve been in situations where mikes were piled high and deep and duct-taped into unbelievable masses of chaos, so entangled that it was nigh impossible to extricate your mike from the mob. Assuming no one attempts to mount/duct-tape their mike to yours, this will allow you to stand free of the crowd, ready to rip and run.

While I think up unusual and creative ways to use the Press Grip, you can be sure it works in a media frenzy environment…since Dean has field tested this at work in San Francisco before putting it up for grabs.

Details: The Press Grip, created by Dean Smith can be found at this site for $55.00 plus shipping.

(Transparency: yes, I know Dean Smith, the creator of the PressGrip and yes, I have given him permission to use my photos and endorsement in promoting his invention. And no – I did NOT receive a free PressGrip. Had to pay for it along with everyone else…although Dean does keep sending me improvements as he finds ways to make his product even better.)

Addendum May 8, 2011
Last night I shot a fashion show for a former student, now attending San Joaquin Delta College. I set up two lock-down cameras and roamed the floor with my Panasonic. One camera went lock-down on a tripod to shoot the main staging area…but I needed a high and wide view also. That’s where the Press Grip came in handy…I attached it to a ceiling fixture upside down, put my HV20 onboard, adjusted so it was upright and covering probably 2/3 of the room and let ‘er roll. With the wide angle adapter, I got it all. Added benefit – high and secure enough that it was out of the way of walk-bys and possible folks with sticky fingers (hardy in this crowd though).

Danny Schueler…human packmule…

The neat thing about working in broadcast news is that often your competition becomes your friend. No – not the station. Your counterparts…those cameramen bearing other numbers on their mikes.

Working in a bureau for a Sacramento station, I saw more of the other bureau cameramen and reporters than I did of my own workmates. Them I’d see maybe once a month…but the competition almost daily.

Danny Schueler is good example. I’d seen him off and on since who knows when…the seventies? But once I went to work for KOVR in their Stockton bureau he became a part of my landscape…we’d meet at homocide scenes, 3am fires, chow down together at pressers. And now he’s posted this wonderful moment in time from what I would guess is sometime in the late 70’s early 80s on his Facebook page.

Yeah…Danny is a hunk…a former San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputy, he had the stance and stare to take over any story…and the heart to make anyone feel at home working next to him. And while we may have competed, we never really tried to take each other down. He could shoot over me (6+ feet to my 5’2″) and we kept the time honored code of working alongside each other to get the news out to our audiences. Not that either of us was unwilling to pull a quick one to get an excluuussive…generally we kept our hands and cards on the table for an honest game.

Danny, like me, is now retired. He has a houseboat too…but he lives on his while I just play with mine. And he’s still carrying glass…old cameramen (and women) never die…they just refocus.

Goodbye to news October 2002

I wrote this on the eve of my departure from television news…

Goodbye to TV news…hello to education (October 2002)
It is now official. After twenty-eight years on the front lines I’m retreating from daily news to a more reflective role as a high school teacher. The truth? After countless stories of personal tragedy and achievement, gut wrenching disasters, endlessly boring meetings, man bites dog and gets bitten back stories…I find standing in a classroom full of students more challenging and exciting than charging out on yet another story. I can remember my first live shot and how nervous – scared I was that I’d blow it. Flying over forest fires and hitting wind shear and falling. Interviews with the great and the unknown. Climbing up the side of a Liberty Ship at sea. Catching a father’s confession to killing his children. Laughing while shooting a story with a Zen master in of all places suburban Tracy. Trapped, or so we thought, in Armenia due to a shortage of jet fuel. Counting seconds and cutting corners to make deadlines. All involved moments of being on edge…pushing, driving to get the shot…to get the story. To be the first with the most accurate information – but just as important to do it with visuals that compelled the viewer to watch and feel what happened and make them understand events or lives or information with clarity. That feeling of being constantly on edge – constantly challenged has been waning, but I’ve found it again in my new job. Watching nervously the first day of school and wondering if I could actually stand there for and hour and a half daily without making a fool of myself. I’m sure I have several times, but the students seem to like the class anyway. They live with my mistakes (which I call learning experiences) and learn despite it. I have dreams again – not to teach the world’s next great video journalist – but to teach students to think for themselves and along the way to learn to love the craft of shooting and editing and thinking visually. I hope it will become part of their lives as it has mine.

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